The ineptitude of strength.

In recent weeks, Kenneth Clarke and his Ministry of Justice seem to have become unwelcome ever-presents in the news.

The Justice Secretary’s foray into the limelight began with the proposed increase to prison term discount for prisoners who plead guilty early, with an extension from the current 33% discount to 50% outlined.

A proposal, which after weeks of support, suddenly became subject to a dramatic U-turn last Tuesday, with Cameron deriding this policy as ‘too lenient’ and attempting to label this change of heart as a ‘sign of strength’. Adding, “Being strong is about being prepared to admit you didn’t get everything right the first time, you are going to improve it and make it better.”

In fact, while both Clarke and Gove (Education Secretary) look ever more incompetent, outspoken and out-of-touch, Cameron has developed an uncanny knack for riding in, with a rationale head, bringing with him an undeniable sense of perspective. Call me a cynic, but methinks a charade is staring us in the faces. But that’s an issue for another day and another blog.

For this post is concerned with plans laid out in the ‘Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishing of Offenders Bill’. Already controversial enough, with cuts to legal aid certain to hit the poorest in British society hardest, it has now emerged that the Ministry of Justice have stealthily cleared the way to means-test the judicial right to a free solicitor upon arrest.

This move would undoubtedly see an arbitrary line placed within the British legal system, with anyone either with access to reasonable savings or earnings above this line being forced to pay for legal representation.

Guaranteed to cause a stir, this proposal is one that challenges a universal right within the British judicial system. As Richard Miller, head of legal aid policy at the Law Society said, “The purpose of having a solicitor acting for them is to ensure their rights are respected, that they are not physically abused, that their confessions are not forged and they are not detained for longer than legally allowed. It’s been a cornerstone of our justice system for the last 25 years and the idea that it should be changed is entirely wrong.”

However, this plan, although not on the immediate horizon, once more signals the Coalition government’s willingness to place spending cuts above all else, regardless of the repercussions.

Noting this growing tendency to overlook the fallout from a rash policy decision, it seems worthwhile to query where exactly the monetary mark would be set for those who had to pay for legal representation. And arguably, the second you raise this question, the answer is one that appears to you with unwavering certainty. While, the erratically deemed poorest of the poor might continue to receive legal representation, those who find themselves in the awkward ‘middle’ could find themselves facing means-testing in order to gain access to something that should be a universal right.

Even placing this concern aside, the operational aspects of this proposal are identifiably of a migraine inducing nature. Will an arrested individual have to fill out means-testing forms before being questioned? Who will carry out this aspect of the arrest? How much will it cost to employ someone with the expertise to handle an individual being asked to work out his or her personal worth while in the midst of an extremely stressful situation?

Ah well, perhaps these concerns are just a waste of time, all will be forgotten come next week when U-turn o’clock strikes once more and the ever rosy cheeked Cameroon swoops in to save the day and assure his flock of the strength of ineptitude.

Kenneth Way.

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